How to Get a Picture Book Published

| | Category: Become a Writer - Getting Started

by Nancy I. Sanders

I started writing because I wanted to write picture books.

Every week, I took my two preschoolers, Danny and Ben, to our library.

Every week, we lugged home tote bags overflowing with picture books.

I devoured them all and read them over and over to our boys.

And when I put Danny and Ben down for their naps, I sat down at my computer and typed.

I dreamed of the day I would become an author and hold my own picture book in my hands.

Over the years, I did become a published author.

I experienced success and published over fifty books including craft books, novelty books, and books for teachers.

Yet that dream of publishing a picture book eluded me, no matter how many picture book manuscripts I submitted.


I had been reading writers’ magazines for years.

One day, however, I made the decision to stop just reading them, and do something about what I read.

I determined to pick at least one tidbit from each new monthly issue and take action.

Shortly after this, I spotted a blurb in one magazine that said Sleeping Bear Press was interested in multicultural alphabet books.

So, I took action.

drinking gourd

How to Get a Picture Book Published

I studied their online catalog.

I made a list of multicultural alphabet books they already published.

I brainstormed cultures they had not yet covered.

This included African American history.

Since I had already written nonfiction books and articles on African American history, this topic was my first choice.

I e-mailed the publisher and asked if they’d like to receive a proposal for an ABC book on African American history to fit in with their line of picture books.

I had accomplished my goal for that month.

I settled in to wait and looked forward to next month’s issue.

I didn’t have to wait long, though.

Sleeping Bear Press e-mailed and requested a proposal.

My heart raced with excitement!

I e-mailed right back and said that I would have a proposal ready in about a month.

I prepared a proposal that included a cover letter, an outline listing key words for each letter of the alphabet, and a two-page sample of text.

In the cover letter, I explained how this new book would fit into their line of existing books.

I also wrote my sample text so it matched the format and voice in their other alphabet books.

The editor asked me for a revision, explaining details about the focus and content of their alphabet books.

I made the revisions, they approved it, and they offered me a contract to write my first full-color trade picture book.

My deadline was in three months.

Those three months sailed by as one of the happiest times of my life.

I was on my way to seeing my dream come true!

What I Learned

I learned that if I wanted to break into today’s competitive picture book market, I had to stop trying to convince editors to publish my “babies,” my cherished picture book manuscripts.

Instead, I learned to scour writers’ magazines for editor interviews and attend writers’ conferences where editors were speaking.

I learned to ask, “What does this editor want?”

I learned to follow through, study their website, and contact them regarding the exact type of picture book they needed to fit into their product line.

Upon publication, my picture book D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet (illustrated by E.B. Lewis) sold over 70,000 copies and earned several prestigious awards.

It was almost as if there was already a place for my manuscript in the picture book market, just waiting for it to be published.

I learned to use a specific strategy to break through the competition and find that place for me as a picture book author.


Avoid the temptation to read an editor’s interview and then submit a manuscript you already wrote.

Because you did not write that manuscript specifically for that publisher, chances are there will be subtle ways it doesn’t quite match up to their projected product list.

Save manuscripts you already wrote for submissions after you experience breakthrough.

In order to break into the picture book market, target a specific editor and publisher, and then submit a query or the completed picture book manuscript that is finely tuned specifically for their exact line of books.


About Nancy I. Sanders

Nancy I Sanders

Nancy I Sanders

Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning author of over 80 books including the ground-breaking book for writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. Nancy wrote a column for children’s writers in The Writer’s online magazine. She is available to conduct hands-on Skype workshops for your writer’s group. For more information, visit

Learn from any of Nancy’s writer’s workshop audios at the National Writing for Children Center.

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3 Comments to “How to Get a Picture Book Published”

  1. Marge Gower says:

    Great article, Nancy. I especially liked the advice to:

    Avoid the temptation to read an editor’s interview and then submit a manuscript you already wrote.
    Because you did not write that manuscript specifically for that publisher, chances are there will be subtle ways it doesn’t quite match up to their projected product list. I think we all want our babies out there and don’t take enough time.
    I also will be following through, studying their websites more carefully.


  2. Great article, and such a wonderful story about how you got your first PB published. I will definitely be looking for publishers’ announcements about their needs!

  3. […] and Advice. Please feel free to leave your comments or questions so Nancy can interact with you: 2011/08/30/write- for-k …. […]

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